Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The story’s title alludes to a central theme. Midway through the story, Taggart has a nostalgic reverie featuring his wife Naomi, from whom he is now divorced. She was extremely beautiful. She appears clearly in his sad reflections, smiling at him while the present Karla sleeps beside him. He has a vision of photographs that once fascinated him, pictures of “sculptured orgiasts” from the Indian Temple of Konarak, abode of the sun god. In their erotic abandonment the figures smile smiles that, in Taggart’s perception, “were not images of private bliss, but presupposed a community of trust, perhaps even a community of love.” Taggart, citizen of New York City, where Puerto Ricans, blacks, Italians, Slavs, Mexicans, and Jews make a disharmonious cultural hash, senses that the orgiasts’ smiles are utopian, their orgy “a visionary hope of trust.” The seemingly perfect fit of Taggart’s relationship with Naomi was only seeming. Still, Taggart is assailed by the vision of her beauty, her smile, and her ravishing appeal; the memory of those first hours with Naomi endures despite the disharmony and disappointment that followed.

George Dennison suggests that the dream of compatibility is truer than the acknowledged incompatibility, whether among New York’s many races or between a man and a woman. He injects Karla into Taggart’s life as an antidote to disillusionment, for Karla, a Texas girl with a southerner’s ingenuous frankness, is not a native of the community of the disillusioned. Her continuing love, her calling up from the street to Taggart’s apartment (“’Heyyyy, TAAA-gart!’ He had never before been hailed like this in the vast city of New York”), enacts for Dennison the possibility that the smiling figures ideally represent. Karla may not perfectly complement Taggart or agree with him on every point, but she is with him in an unprecedented communion, creating for the moment something of the harmony that the photos of the orgiasts so attractively advertise: “The small voice rang up confidently out of the vastness, and he began to smile and feel buoyant.”